“You can’t help me. I’m so angry. So angry.” [continued]

The drunk man tells me his name is Harley, and also that he is really drunk. He smells of cheap alcohol and keeps falling into me or towards the cars. If I let him go he can’t walk more than two paces before falling into the road again and I worry he’ll end up frozen to death under a hedge or taken out by another taxi. I imagine reading his death in the Lancaster Guardian.  I decide me and Chris have to walk him home and Chris looks at me and I know he’s got the same idea.

Harley’s pretty friendly. He keeps saying thank you. He’s surprisingly articulate but he can’t manage to walk three feet by himself. So Chris holds one of his arms and I grab the other and we make slow but steady progress towards his house.

“What religion are you then?” Harley asks. He stares at me with big bloodshot brown eyes. He has a kind face.

“Um, I’m not really.”

“Then why do you do this? I’m so sorry, I’m really drunk.”

“To be honest Harley my main reason is that I don’t want to see you fall in front of a car.”

He laughs. “That’s really good that is. That’s really good. You two are really good. You’re really good. I like how people do that, because you know not everyone… are you a Catholic then?”

Our conversation circles around the issue of whether I’m a Christian of Catholic or Anglican – although he’s drunk so he pronounces Anglican ‘angling’ and it takes me five minutes to realise he’s not just raving about fishing. He’s had religious parents, he tells me and Chris, staring at each of us in turn. A big family. A strict upbringing. He’s one of several brothers and they’re still religious; he’s the black sheep.

The pubs are closing and several people eye us cautiously as we stagger past; our linked three make up an unusually mixed demographic – one manager, one PhD and one drunk. But it turns out me and Harley have quite a bit in common and he’s a good talker, despite the beer.

“I was brought up to be religious – a Catholic,” he says.

“Me too. I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness,” I say.

He stops and looks at me. “Is that why you do this?”

He keeps accusing me of being religious and I’m not. I guess I’m still an agnostic, or maybe now I’m just tired of the question. I remember saying to my mother, in a horrible moment, that I would look back into religion – but later and in my own space. It seems like a strange time for the issue to come up this evening, hundreds of miles from Derby in a backstreet with an alcoholic. Do you think this is how God does it – through the drunks, the homeless and the dispossessed? Maybe he uses them as a goad towards religious fervour and righteousness because they seem to give a fairly independent review of religion.

“I’m not religious. I just didn’t want to leave you by the road. Are we nearly at your place now?”

It’s freezing cold and Harley stops walking and stares across the street.

“I don’t know,” he starts to laugh, “I can’t remember.”


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